Solar cooking evokes the image of roughing it out when camping in the remote wilderness. There is so much more to it! Solar cooking is a great alternative to conventional cooking, because of its zero fossil-fuel footprint. It involves heating, baking, cooking, and sautéing food using the sun’s energy, while not generating smoke like a campfire!
How much does it cost? Interestingly, a solar cooker can be made with materials found at home: a cardboard box, foil, saran wrap, tape, and dark construction paper. It is a fun summer family project to explore how high the heat can reach in a homemade oven. The latest technology in solar cooking can reach 550°F, and there is a myriad of options for every budget between $70 and $400.
The common types of solar cookers are listed below:
A box oven solar cooker is the most known type of cooker. It is an insulated dark box covered by clear glass, surrounded with aluminum panels reflecting the sunlight and directing it inside the box (see attached photo of my cooker, which lives on a patio year round).
A panel cooker is a variation on the traditional box oven, only smaller and portable. It is a three-sided opened fabric box covered in reflective material where a dark casserole is placed.
The weirdest of all is the parabolic solar cooker, which looks like… a parabolic antenna. The 60” wide concave plastic mirror reflects the sunlight at a focal point, where a structure allows to place a pan to sauté or stir-fry foods. Online reviews show that a piece of wood held at the focal point will catch fire in seconds. It is probably best to store this one away when not in use!
The newest technology is called evacuated tube cooker, which is a glass tube where food is inserted on a tray, surrounded by a reflective structure. This portable device allows for temperature to reach an impressive 550°F.
What can be cooked in a solar cooker? Beans, casseroles, veggies, meat, cakes, cobblers, and soups too. As the sun moves along its arc, the unit should be repositioned to optimize the power of sunlight. The box oven and the panel cooker cook slower and require pre-heating, versus the parabolic and evacuated tube cookers.
Does it work? Absolutely, on a 75°F April day, my Sun Oven (sunoven.com) reached 250°F, and baked a delicious lemon pound cake in a couple of hours. Anytime we have a warm day, we cook lentils or garbanzo beans. We dehydrate apples and clementines for snacks. Sunshine is here, let’s cook the way summer intended!